A Stomach Full of Plastic

Think of Them as Ocean Croutons

The sky turned a dull orange yellow and the sun went red over the UK on Monday, as storm Ophelia hit Ireland, dragging dust from the Sahara and debris from Portuguese forest fires with it. The same morning gave presented me with a news story about Sir David Attenborough’s comments on the marine environment, spurred by observations and while working on Blue Planet II. While he confessed not having an answer to rising sea temperatures, if there is one, he reflected on having watched albatrosses hunting for their young and returning not with beaks full of squid, but plastic.

The ocean is vast. Somehow we have managed to pour enough crap into the world’s water to create a series of notable “garbage patches”, unwittingly dump tens of millions of pieces of debris onto otherwise uninhabited beaches, and pollute the Mariana trench for extended stretches of time with long banned industrial chemicals. As far as I can tell, we more or less managed to do this without intending to.

I’m not a paragon of environmental protection. You won’t find me waving a placard in front of 10 Downing Street in an attempt to promote banning plastic bags or anything similar. I’m as much to blame as anybody else when it comes to being another consumer gurgling forth a ceaseless torrent of waste that will probably help to destroy something that was here a long time before I was. So this is not about preaching from a soap box, sticking two fingers in the air, and yelling ‘fuck humanity!’ I’ll have more of a leg to stand on when I do that.

The thing that the albatross and storm Ophelia have in common is that they exemplify larger chains of events that feed into each other and end up producing their own effects. It’s difficult to see this type of thing from the ground, in part because the general public really aren’t given much context when it comes to the news. Unless you go out of your way to start joining the dots you’re probably going to miss the macro-scale view. This is bad news because we could all benefit from a greater perspective and I think that applies to just about any topic you can name. As it is, we’re prone to treating one event after another with an almost blasé disregard because everything is fed to people in a segregated easy-to-digest Starbucks style horror-in-a-disposable-cup format (how many sugars would you like?)

The result is that hurricanes, earthquakes, famine, wars, migrations, refugee crises, political upheavals and any other number of large scale events, which will naturally produce all kinds of knock-on effects, will each be presented, treated, and thought about as its own disconnected bitesize story. The risk of this is that we are free, even encouraged, to ignore how disastrous those chain reactions can become.

It’s dramatic but, reading about the albatross, I couldn’t help drawing comparisons to the cover of Cattle Decapitation’s 2015 album, The Anthropocene Extinction.

Trading crossbows for bottle caps

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